Tools to Manage Stress Share +

Posted by: coronadosafe 3 years, 9 months ago

Tools to Manage Stress

By Monique Reynolds, PhD and Georgia C. Ferrell

We've all heard the list of stress management tools – exercise, good sleep, quality time with friends and loved ones, quiet relaxation. We dutifully add these tasks to our ever-growing to-do lists. The “shoulds” pile up and suddenly managing stress and being healthy starts to become stressful!

Like most people, I thrive on a little bit of stress. But there’s a fine line between being busy and being frenetic-and I often find myself crossing it. Even those things we consider to be “good” stress, like a new job, helping in a classroom or moving into a new house, can get overwhelming if not kept in balance. Having the awareness that I've crossed the line is just the first step. The solution is to slow down, prioritize my commitments and get back to a practice of stress management that works for me.

Mentally, I shift into therapist mode and tick through a list of "Things That Work"– my own integration of research, personal awareness and experience over the years.

I start with my physical self and the quality of my last few meals and decide that granola bars and Valentine’s candy just aren’t cutting it as food. I need to add some protein and complex carbs to provide the fuel needed to manage my elevated stress hormones.

I also know I need to get back to regular exercise. The scientist in me has known for a long time that exercise, any exercise, triggers the release of endorphins, reduces lingering stress hormones and over time, improves the immune functioning that is weakened with stress. In recent weeks I realize I’ve gotten off track and I can feel the consequences in my short fuse these days. I make it a priority to meet friends to walk or run and schedule workouts into my week, just like any other appointment.

Moving beyond the physical to the social, I think about how I've dropped into my “nose to the grindstone” approach that is typical for me when I’m overly stressed. In doing so, I sacrifice the tremendous benefits that come with spending quality time with close friends and loved ones. An hour with a good friend, snuggling with my kids, or giving my husband a real hug has a profound effect on my mood. Those moments of connection trigger an increase in a hormone called oxytocin, which creates that warm glow feeling and stimulates the calming response in the nervous system. I mentally commit to stepping away from my to-do list long enough to reconnect with those friends and loved ones whose presence fills my soul.

And finally, I focus on prioritizing my inner world. I know that practicing relaxation directly counters the stress response and reduces those negative stress hormones, adrenaline and cortisol. There are so many ways to do this, a few minutes of meditating on the beach, a morning prayer, deep breathing or gratitude. It's less about what I choose to do and more about taking a few moments to calm my mind.

As I look back at my list of "Things That Work," I start to smile because my body can almost feel those positive changes already. It's not an easy process, but each time I veer off course, it becomes easier to get back on track again. I remember that I’m a work in progress and choose to persevere.

Take the Challenge: How Can You Manage Stress? 

1. What's your stress management recipe?

Find something you love or pick one of the ideas above. Try different things until you find your recipe that works best for you. 

2. Choose one practice that you know works for you and schedule it into your week- every week.

Enlist a partner to help keep you motivated and accountable.